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Prejudices Will Not Be Easily Eliminated

Column by Michael K. Chung
Opinion Editor

In response to comments, articles, and a phone call regarding my column addressing quotas, racism, and equality of opportunity ["Quotas Exacerbate Prejudice Problems," Sept. 24] I would like to clarify several issues that I raised, as well as my own viewpoints.

First of all, I made the mistake of stating that the African-Americans make up a race, when in fact they make up an ethnic group. Next, although I never directly stated that racism does not exist, I do believe that racism and individual prejudices exist in our nation. When I paraphrased from The Boston Globe that business decisions in several companies to close several plants were made on economic grounds, independent of personal (or corporate, for that matter) prejudices, I took that statement as a truth for the purpose of my argument. However, it is highly doubtful that any of us will ever truly know the validity of the companies' statements of these decisions.

Regarding my comment asking "How often have you heard of racial under-representation in professional athletics," Stevenson ["Racism, Not Quotas, Cause of Job Loss," Oct. 1] raised a valid point against my naive comment. He briefly mentioned the ground-breaking work by track star Jesse Owens and baseball great Jackie Robinson in the era when professional athletics were "barred to African-American men and women." His comment could not have been truer, and I credit him for bringing this to the attention of myself and the readers.

Although I was wrong to over-generalize that athletics are not tainted by racism, I feel that efforts on the grass-roots level are necessary in order for all people to have a chance to explore other athletics and possibly pursue them at whatever intensity level they so choose. On this note, I applaud the efforts of the late tennis great Arthur Ashe, the first African-American to capture the Wimbledon and US Open titles. Not only did he overcome harsh conditions and inequalities to play as a youngster, but he also represented our country as a member of the US Davis Cup Team, inspiring and personally helping thousands of black, underprivileged youth to follow their dreams and capitalize upon their growing opportunities through tennis clinics, as well as being a spokesman for the United States Tennis Association, among other activities.

Also to be commended is current rising tennis talent MaliVai Washington. Hailing from Michigan, Washington, of African-American descent, is continuing Ashe's spirit, giving clinics, personally aiding the development of children in what used to be a typical "white-collar, white-color" country-club sport. During the network television coverage of this year's US Open Championships, Washington told a story about how at a little girl asked him for a poster of him during a tournament. Washington responded by telling her that if she improved her school grades over the next year, he'd give her one. The next year, the girl showed Washington her recent straight-A report card and asked for her poster.

This story is simply beautiful -- Washington quietly provided a simple motivation which drove this girl to work harder and focus on academic priorities. It is progress such as this at the grass-roots level that impresses me the most. Quietly, this girl may rise to the top of any field and be judged on the basis of her achievements and potential, and not on her gender and ethnic background.

To me, such advancement is the ideal. Of course, such situations are usually the exceptions as opposed to the norm, so if an attitude of, "If you wait, equality will come" is adopted, it will not evolve on its own in a timely manner, if at all. I now realize the importance of groups who record statistics of our society and groups which actively seek equal representation. It is good to have groups which update us as to our current situation, and offer constructive, rational suggestions. Personally, I do not enjoy hearing about or dealing with special-interest groups which make irrational, overly emotional demands in an irrational manner. Perhaps I can be construed as a whiner when it comes to whiners. However, I disagree strongly with Yeh's paraphrasing of my article ["Equality Must Be Actively Sought After," Oct. 1] when she states that I am really saying, "Discrimination probably isn't real, but even if it is, you minorities should just shut up and stop whining."

I believe that the most-highly qualified applicants should fill the appropriate positions which they apply for, without any consideration regarding their race, sex, religion, sexual preference, or other characteristics. Obviously, this ideal has not been fulfilled. After all, considering that the Civil War was only fought 130 years ago, we as a nation are still young in our generational development. That is, slavery existed only several generations ago, and most Americans can tell you how the attitudes and demographics in the South are different than those in the North.

How should these inequalities, racism, and prejudices be corrected? I don't know -- if I did, I certainly wouldn't be an engineering and pre-medical student at MIT. As I mentioned earlier, if we wait for things to happen on their own, they won't. On the other hand, if we inspire the under-privileged and under-represented on the one-to-one level, how much credibility will there be if no one is there to represent them now? By paying attention to demographics in the workplace, opportunities may be extended to the under-represented on the basis of merit and potential, not for the purpose of having "token" representatives.

Obviously, striking a balance which arouses no suspicions or misunderstandings is extremely difficult, if not impossible. However, I want to clarify my previous argument (which was admittedly poorly pieced together), by saying that if I could have it my way, I would wave a magic wand over the world, erasing the past and making all of the problems disappear. This is clearly not an option, so we must strive to resolve this sensitive issue in an expedient, intelligent, and well-reasoned manner. Changes will not occur overnight, but through stronger families and educational facilities which emphasize more worthwhile and relevant priorities, large strides can be made.